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A NEW FORCE IN THE GAME
Jaime Diaz
August 10, 1987
England's long-hitting Laura Davies starred in two Opens
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August 10, 1987

A New Force In The Game

England's long-hitting Laura Davies starred in two Opens

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A safe par was all Laura Davies needed when she came to the 493-yard, par-5 17th hole at the Plainfield ( N.J.) Country Club in last week's playoff for the U.S. Women's Open. The 23-year-old Englishwoman led Japan's Ayako Okamoto by two shots and JoAnne Carner of the U.S. by three. Davies choked up on her driver and punched a low, controlled draw 250 yards down the heart of the fairway. Then she smashed a three-wood 237 yards to the front of the green. Three putts produced a safe par, the Laura Davies way.

Moments later she holed out a four-footer on 18 to become the first British player to win the event, which, because of rain delays and the first three-way tie in Open history, seemed to go on and on. The victory also made Davies, who won last year's Ladies' British Open at Royal Birkdale, the only woman to triumph in both Opens.

At 5'10" and nearly 200 pounds, Davies is the longest hitter ever in women's golf. In contests in England she has driven nearly 300 yards, and at Plainfield she recorded a drive of 276 yards. More telling, she averaged 250.3 yards in driving distance for the week, whereas the field averaged 218.7. It's fair to say that if Davies played on the men's tour, she wouldn't be its shortest hitter.

But she didn't have much time to think about that at Plainfield. The Tuesday playoff created havoc in her tight schedule. After politely thanking everyone, she packed up her trophy and high tailed it back to England to defend her British Open title, starting Thursday. She arrived at Heathrow on Wednesday morning with just enough time to stop at home in Ottershaw in Surrey before making the 4�-hour drive to St. Mellion in Cornwall. Upon her arrival, she was lured into the pressroom on the pretense that she was needed at a press conference and surprised by all her pals with a champagne celebration.

Then, without so much as a peek at the course before teeing off, Davies shot 73-72 to lead the field by two strokes after 36 holes. No one was more surprised by those rounds than Davies, who admitted, "For me, making the cut was the big thing." She finished tied for second, one stroke behind one of her closest friends, Britain's Alison Nicholas. "I didn't feel mentally tired, but my legs got tired, walking up all those steep hills," said Davies.

All in all, she had a remarkable two weeks. "When Nancy Lopez turned pro and won everything, she was just exceptional, and I think Laura is like that," says Carner, whose own powerful game was dwarfed by Davies's at Plainfield. "Everything about her game is impressive. She is one of those great players now being shown to the world."

Davies has been a star on the women's tour in Europe since turning pro in 1985, several months after representing Great Britain and Ireland in the Curtis Cup. She was the leading money winner ($35,000) and Rookie of the Year in '85, and last year she won four tournaments and repeated as the top money winner with $60,000.

Plainfield was only Davies's fourth tournament in the States. She finished 11th, six strokes back, at last year's U.S. Open outside Dayton. She missed the cut by one stroke at the '86 Dinah Shore. At this year's Dinah Shore she shot 66 in the first round to take the lead but ballooned to an 83 in the second and finished tied for 33rd. Since then, Davies has harnessed her power, choking up on her clubs and not going for every pin with her irons.

In the enervating heat and humidity at Plainfield, Davies made intelligent use of a tremendous advantage. On a wet, hilly course, which played backbreakingly long for the majority of the field, Davies could hit smooth, controlled tee shots with three-and five-woods and still use less club for her approaches than players who used drivers off the tee. Davies did hit her driver on the four par 5s, and she reached two of them in two shots. No one else reached any of the par 5s in two. Moreover, Davies needed only 120 putts for 72 holes, third-best in the field.

Okamoto was direct in her praise. "I do not feel I am even on the same plane with her," she said. "Laura might be the most impressive player I have ever met. She is thrilling to watch."

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